“We’re very ’70s-obsessed kinds of people. The visual reference points were all ’70s art nouveau.”
Melbourne’s Pearls release their debut album, Pretend You’re Mine, on Friday, February 20. ALEX GRIFFIN drummer, Cassandra Kiely.
Chatting on the phone as the leadership spill whirlwind raged in Canberra – threatening to blow the PM out of office faster than you can say ‘captain’s pick’ – Pearls drummer Cassandra Kiely had another kind of long-awaited joy on her mind: seeing her band’s debut album finally escape into the wild.
As Kiely explains, Pretend You’re Mine has been a long time coming. “Recording took us about a year, and the mixing kind of happened as we went, and the record was all ready and sent off about four months,” she says. “So it’s been a wait. But I have a copy of it on vinyl now, which is a really good feeling.”
Along with Ellice Blakenery (organ and singing) and Ryan Caesar (guitar and singing), Pearls have carved out a reputation in Melbourne’s teeming music scene for their unsettling, sensually charged glam rock. Taking such a lengthy incubation period for getting the first record right naturally saw the band mutate. While 2012’s self titled EP was more austere and distant, marrying the menace of the Jesus And Mary Chain to the tender caveman thomp of late Beat Happening, Pretend You’re Mine overflows with glam swagger and soft-focus discomfort.
Responsible for all the spit and polish are Jack Farley and Haima Marriott, the latter best known for providing Architecture In Helsinki with their recent disco sheen. ” He’s more of a producer, so his touch is all over the record,” Kiely says. “This sounds way more hi-fi, which was definitely a conscious decision!”
According to Kiely, equally key was the band upping their own ambitions and expectations of themselves. “We took our time and reworked songs, and while we did that, new songs came really quickly. Like, (first single)Big Shot was the last song we recorded. Other songs took more time, because there was a lot of fiddling around with sounds and structures. When we were, doing the EP way back when, we were just starting out. Elise and I had never been in a band before! So it’s all developed, become a bit more nuanced. When we were starting out, I guess we had a lot of seven-minute-long droney songs. I still like that, but we have become a bit more concerned with song structure compared to how loose things were.”
The results are pretty stunning, a glimpse of an alternate universe where T-Rex peaked in the ’80s, or Fleetwood Mac as a vibrant, weird, disco democracy, or HAIM’s slinky pop nous being fronted by a dude in a stained raincoat.
Complementing the glittery pall of the songs on Pretend You’re Mine are the gorgeous soft focus art direction, which are as Boogie Nights as you can get without turning up at Burt Reynold’s poolhouse. “Ellice and I have quite strong views about what we want! We’re very ’70s-obsessed kinds of people. The visual reference points were all ’70s art nouveau. Colour was important, that lilac as the background, and the Roxy Music girl vibe. Our friend, Michelle Tran, helped us, and we’re really happy with them.”
The prolific Melbourne auteur Benny Montero contributed the sprawling, manic video for Big Shot, but, as Kiely laughs, “that was all him, I can’t take any credit!”
Considering how innocuous their origins were, Kiely still marvels at how it happened at all. “Me and Ellice worked together! We were shopgirls with similar taste in music and became best buddies straight away. We’d talk about how much we’d like to play in a band, but we didn’t know how. I was going out with Ryan at the time, and he said ‘I’ll have a jam with you guys’, and then we had a practice. Then he wanted to do it the next week as well, which was surprising… and here we are! Meeting Ellice and Ryan gave me the atmosphere and support to feel comfortable to be a dickhead!”
Like many other bands, things kicked off for Pearls by following a well-trodden path; hearing the slipshod, carefree playing on Beat Happening records, and deciding that the sky was the limit. “All of a sudden, just playing music, regardless of whether it’s perfect or not, becomes so much more acceptable. Like I’d listen to Fleetwood Mac and think ‘I could never do that’, but when you hear wonky drums in amazing songs, you realise anyone can make music. You should feel like that anyway though. I wanted to do it for years and years, but never got the balls.”